A Qualitative Analysis of School Leadership Behaviors and Levels of Representation of One Minority Population in Advanced Placement Courses in One Southeastern Virginia School District

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Virginia Tech


This qualitative case study analyzes the underrepresentation of minority students in Advanced Placement (AP) courses in Virginia high schools and examines the influences that encourage school leaders to lessen the existing gaps at their assigned schools. Data from a division in southeastern Virginia summarizing each school's minority representation in its AP courses were analyzed. After identifying the schools' minority representation levels, qualitative research methods were used to determine the impact, if any, of school leaders on student participation rates. Additionally, qualitative data from individual interviews were considered to determine if school leaders who had a higher representation of minority populations at their schools demonstrated intentional actions to address AP participation in their schools.

The results of this study indicate that principals believed that all capable students should have access to AP courses and that teachers and counselors influence students' decisions to enroll in AP courses. Additionally, principals found that sharing data reflecting their school's representation rates helped justify the need to improve student participation in AP courses. Principals with high participation rates placed importance on communicating to students the opportunities obtained by participating in AP courses and expected school staff to encourage students with potential to participate in more rigorous courses.

Principals with higher minority representation rates in advanced courses were also found to frequently remind a variety of stakeholders to encourage students to participate in AP courses. Furthermore, principals with higher minority representation in AP programs used more "we," "us," and "our" statements and references to a team approach when asked about their work. Finally, this study found that specialized academies create environments where stronger student representation rates can occur in AP courses for all student groups. The results of the study have the potential to impact high school leaders as they seek to improve outcomes for the students they serve.



advanced placement, black students, equitable access, leadership impact, minority, participation gaps, principals'actions, principals' beliefs, representation